Money is split, but public favors Conor McGregor in UFC 202

Finally, the time for hurling insults and water bottles has passed, and the time has come for Conor McGregor to back up his big talk or go fight someone his own size.

McGregor’s rematch against Nate Diaz at UFC 202 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena is arguably the most hyped fight of the year in either mixed martial arts or boxing. It promises to be a major wagering event that inspires strong opinions and two-way action.

“The straight-bet money is pretty much split down the middle,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said. “The price is right if you like either side. I’m anticipating some big plays on it.”

The betting public has started to lean toward McGregor, who is a minus-130 favorite after the line was pick ’em early in the week. Rood is expecting a handle of between $2 million to $3 million on the card at MGM’s books.

The cocky Irishman is desperate for revenge. McGregor opened as a 3-1 favorite in the first meeting, which Diaz won by second-round submission at UFC 196 in March. McGregor bloodied and dominated Diaz with punches for a majority of the fight before running out of steam and getting taken down by the bigger man.

The rematch reminds handicapper Lou Finocchiaro (@GambLou on Twitter) of a boxing scenario from 1980, when “Sugar” Ray Leonard was upset by Roberto Duran. When they fought again five months later, Leonard took control and won by TKO.

“Since the moment of defeat, that loud-mouthed Irishman, who I have been pretty critical of in the past, gathered himself on the mat and not only accepted defeat like a champion but began to purposely prepare for this rematch,” Finocchiaro said. “The immediate emotional reaction by McGregor exemplifies to me his potential for greatness in this sport. McGregor, as Leonard did in the ‘80s, represents the sweet science that MMA fighting is evolving toward. Diaz represents the old-school fighter impeding the path of the future superstar.

“Like Duran, Diaz is simply a fighter, and ideas of legacy and place in history mean little. But bagging big bucks means mucho. While Duran drank and partied his way to the rematch, the Diaz distractions have come in the form of long-awaited notoriety and recognition.

“To McGregor, this fight is his everything, his pride for country and for self. Just like Leonard, he is unable to even fathom losing this fight as he is fighting for legacy.”

Diaz took the first fight on 11 days’ notice. The rematch at 170 pounds is above McGregor’s comfort zone, but he has had a full camp to prepare physically and form a more effective game plan.

“McGregor is aware of Nate’s durability, so he will use speed, precision punching and movement to outwork the taller, bigger, longer Diaz,” Finocchiaro said. “He’ll use a firm leg attack on that planted left front leg of Diaz. Durability, size, length and more ways to win this fight — Diaz will have advantage on the mat, but he rarely takes opponents down and chooses to stand and fight — do favor Diaz.

“I feel McGregor will win this fight in decisive fashion. Speed, IQ, precision punching and movement all favor Conor. This fight offers great value over 2½ rounds. Conor opened the first fight minus-300 and was as high as minus-585, so catching him now with everything on the line at minus-125 is value I recommend taking.”

Westgate sports book director Jay Kornegay said the ticket count favors McGregor at about 2-to-1 ratio, but the biggest bets are on the underdog.

“I kind of like McGregor,” Kornegay said, “but I know some of the sharper plays are on Diaz.”

Similar to “Sugar” Ray Leonard in second fight with Duran, look for McGregor to get revenge. But Diaz is not a quitter, so the fight should live up to the hype.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow @mattyoumans247 on Twitter.

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